Bacteria lurks in commercial paper towels, especially those with recycled content, Canadian study finds; researchers say results support those of other studies noting high bacterial counts in some recycled paper products

Audrey Dixon

Audrey Dixon

Dec 29, 2011 – Industry Intelligence

LOS ANGELES , December 29, 2011 () –

Recycled paper products appear to be more inclined to have high counts of bacteria, according to a study by researchers at Laval University in Canada, reported WebMD on Dec. 28.

After testing unused samples from six brands of commercial paper towels, the researchers discovered bacteria in all of them, with those containing recycled fiber most heavily contaminated.

The recycled-content paper towels had 100- to 1,000-times higher concentrations of bacteria than those made entirely from virgin woodpulp, the researchers stated in the study, WebMD reported.

The results correspond with other studies indicating high counts of bacteria in other kinds of recycled paper products.

Recycled paper mills are known to have a problem with bacterial slime, which can corrode machinery and damage finished paper sheets.

Recycled paper might provide a good environment for bacteria as it contains starches and fillers, which are used as binding agents in papermaking but can also serve as food for bacteria, reported WebMD.

The findings were called an “eye opener” by Elizabeth Scott, co-director of the Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community at Simmons College in Boston.

If unused commercial paper towels had bacteria, what about other kinds of paper products, such as towels used by consumers in their kitchens for food preparation or facial tissues that “come into close contact with our eyes and noses, Scott said.

In their study of commercial paper towels, the Laval University researchers found the bacteria known as Bacillus bacteria, which in certain strains can cause food poisoning, WebMD reported.

However, in the amounts found in the research, the B. cereus is unlikely to harm most people, although it can be more dangerous to those with a weakened immunity, such as babies, the elderly or those taking medications that suppress their immune system.

The study, which is published in the American Journal of Infection Control, did not find that the use of paper towels resulted in any illnesses.

The research was not thought to be a cause for healthy people to stop using paper towels. The findings are probably most important for people who need to be extra cautions about germs, such as in hospital isolation units, said experts, reported WebMD.

The primary source of this article is WebMD, New York, New York, on Dec. 28, 2011.

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